Why is ecological restoration so important?

  • to stop biodiversity loss
  • to sustain healthy ecosystems
  • to provide human society with a wealth of essential goods and services, such as clean air and water, protection against floods, soil
  • erosion and climate change, provision of sustainable food and timber, space for recreation in a healthy and beautiful environment, for spirtual and mental revitalization, for green tourism etc.

During the past years ecological restoration became an essential target of any biodiversity vision in Europe, as illustrated in the following legal initiatives and policy targets.


COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (link)

For the purpose of this Directive:

(a) conservation means a series of measures required to maintain or restore the natural habitats and the populations of species of wild fauna and flora at a favourable status

Article 2

1. The aim of this Directive shall be to contribute towards ensuring bio-diversity through the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora in the European territory of the Member States to which the Treaty applies.

2. Measures taken pursuant to this Directive shall be designed to maintain or restore at favourable conservation status, natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community interest.

Article 3

1. A coherent European ecological network of special areas of conservation shall be set up under the title Natura 2000. This network, composed of sites hosting the natural habitat types listed in Annex I and habitats of the species listed in Annex II, shall enable the natural habitat types and the species’ habitats concerned to be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range.

Article 10

Member States shall endeavour, where they consider it necessary, in their land-use planning and development policies and, in particular, with a view to improving the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, to encourage the management of features of the landscape which are of major importance for wild fauna and flora. Such features are those which, by virtue of their linear and continuous structure (such as rivers with their banks or the traditional systems for marking field boundaries) or their function as stepping stones (such as ponds or small woods), are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species. (more information here)

More information on the implementation of the Natura2000 network here



In its conclusions of 15 March 2010, the Council of European Environment Ministers agreed a new long-term vision and mid-term headline target for biodiversity in the EU.

The vision is that “by 2050 European Union biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides — its natural capital — are protected, valued and appropriately restored for biodiversity’s intrinsic value and for their essential contribution to human wellbeing and economic prosperity, and so that catastrophic changes caused by the loss of biodiversity are avoided.”

For this vision to be agreed, “a headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss” was agreed.

Full text here.

This vision and target was supported by the European Parliament resolution of 21 September 2010 on EU legislation aiming at the conservation of biodiversity (link). [dead link]



The Global Biodiversity Outlook is the flagship publication of the Convention on Biological Diversity (more info) and was launched on 10 May 2010. It summarizes the latest data on status and trends of biodiversity and draws conclusions for the future strategy of the Convention.

This authoritative publication is very clear about the future importance of ecological restoration (full text):

(p.13)…Increasingly, restoration of terrestrial, inland water and marine ecosystems will be needed to re-establish ecosystem functioning and the provision of valuable services. Economic analysis shows that ecosystem restoration can give good economic rates of return.

(p.15) …Taking actions to ensure the maintenance and restoration of well-functioning ecosystems, underpinned by biodiversity and providing natural infrastructure for human societies, can provide economic gains worth trillions of dollars a year.

(p.75) …There are opportunities for rewilding landscapes from farmland abandonment in some regions – in Europe, for example, about 200 000 square kilometers of land are expected to be freed up by 2050. Ecological restoration and reintroduction of large herbivores and carnivores will be important in creating self-sustaining ecosystems with minimal need for further human intervention.

(p.83) …Conservation of biodiversity, and, where necessary restoration of ecosystems, can be costeffective interventions for both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, often with substantial co-benefits.

(p. 86) …Take full advantage of opportunities to contribute to climate change mitigation through conservation and restoration of forests, peatlands, wetlands and other ecosystems that capture and store large amounts of carbon; and climate change adaptation through investing in “natural infrastructure”, and planning for geographical shifts in species and communities by maintaining and enhancing ecological connectivity across landscapes and inland water ecosystems.

(p.86-87)…Increasingly, restoration of terrestrial, inland water and marine ecosystems will be needed to re-establish ecosystem functioning and the provision of valuable ecosystem services. A recent analysis of schemes to restore degraded ecosystems showed that, overall, such schemes are successful in improving the status of biodiversity. Moreover, economic analysis conducted by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), shows that ecosystem restoration may give good economic rates of return when considering the long-term provision of ecosystem services.

However the levels of biodiversity and ecosystem services remained below the levels of the pristine ecosystems, reinforcing the argument that, where possible, avoiding degradation through conservation is preferable (and even more cost-effective) than restoration after the event. Restoration can take decades to have a significant impact, and will be more effective for some ecosystems than for others. In some cases, restoration of ecosystems will not be possible as the impacts of  degradation are irreversible.

(p.44) …In many countries, steps are being taken to restore wetlands, often involving reversals in land-use policies by re-wetting areas that were drained in the relatively recent past. A single freshwater ecosystem can often provide multiple benefits such as purification of water, protection from natural disasters, food and materials for local livelihoods and income from tourism. There is a growing recognition that restoring or maintaining the natural functions of freshwater systems can be a cost-effective alternative to building physical infrastructure for flood defenses or costly water treatment facilities.

(p.71) Biodiversity and ecosystem changes could be prevented, significantly reduced or even reversed (while species extinctions cannot be reversed, diversity of ecosystems can be restored) if strong action is applied urgently, comprehensively and appropriately, at international, national and local levels. This action must focus on addressing the direct and indirect factors driving biodiversity loss, and must adapt to changing knowledge and conditions.

During the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) at Nagoya, Japan, 18-29 October 2010, the parties agreed on several implications for the future implementation of the Convention, with (amongst others): …the need to place greater emphasis on the restoration of degraded terrestrial, inland water and marine ecosystems with a view to re-establish ecosystem functioning and the provision of valuable services, to enhance the resilience of ecosystems and to contribute to climate‑change mitigation and adaptation, taking note of existing guidance… (full text here)

These facts resulted in ambitious final targets from the COP10 Conference in Nagoya:



At the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the Convention on Biological Diversity at Nagoya, Japan, 18-29 October 2010 the following strategic goals were adopted:

Strategic goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Target 14: By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15: By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

As rationale behind these goals, it was accepted that (amongst others) the following actions are needed:

(c)  Continuing direct action to safeguard and, where necessary, restore biodiversity and ecosystem services. While longer-term actions to reduce the underlying causes of biodiversity are taking effect, immediate action can help conserve biodiversity, including in critical ecosystems, by means of protected areas, habitat restoration, species‑recovery programmes and other targeted conservation interventions;

(d)  Efforts to ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services and to ensure access to these services, especially for the poor who most directly depend on them. Maintenance and restoration of ecosystems generally provide cost-effective ways to address climate change. Therefore, although climate change is an additional major threat to biodiversity, addressing this threat opens up a number of opportunities for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

Full text of COP10 strategic plan here.